Even by my usual standards, the breakfast I had the other day in Beijing was a bit weird. When I talk about my usual standards, I mean that Iâ€™m not like most foreigners in China who insist on eating toast and jam, cereal or some other normal Western food first thing in the morning. Nothing pleases me more than to be offered xi fan (rice porridge) with fermented beancurd, steamed buns or noodles with chilli sauce when I wake up. But the other day was exceptional.
I had slept late, and went to visit a friend just after 10 oâ€™clock. Immediately, she put the finishing touches to a soup of spiny sea cucumbers and xue ha (the ovarian fat of the snow frog), with wisps of eggwhite and a light coriander garnish. Itâ€™s not a normal breakfast dish by any means, but she had prepared the sea cucumbers and frog fat, and there we were, so she served them.
Even if it wasnâ€™t what I would actively have desired to eat half an hour after getting out of bed, it was wonderful â€“ the fresh springiness of the sea cucumbers; the tender, transparent gelatinousness of xue ha, the delicate broth, the freshness of the coriander. But the fact that eating sea cucumbers for breakfast not only didnâ€™t disturb me in the slightest, but was a positive pleasure, was another reminder of how un-English Iâ€™ve become in my tastes.
P.S. I do try to avoid eating sea cucumbers deliberately because, like many acquatic species, they are severely overfished, but itâ€™s hard to refuse when a friend offers them like this, without any warning.